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Chinatown 10, San Francisco 9, Us 7, New York 6, Boston 4, David Chan 3, Richmond 3, Rebecca Prozen 2, Chicago 2, Olague 2, Tom 2, Garrett 2, David Chen 1, Biel 1, Braley 1, Christina Olague 1, Stockton 1, Rebecca Prozan 1, John Avalos 1, Citibank 1,
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  SFGTV    [untitled]  

    October 4, 2012
    6:00 - 6:30pm PDT  

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good morning, welcome to the public safety committee of the board of supervisors. my name is supervisor john avalos, the chair. i'm joined by christina olague, the vice chair and supervisor eric mar. the clerk is dean na braley. our staff at sfgtv, who are
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helping broadcast are jesse lar son and nona millconian. madam clerk. >> please make sure to silence all cell phones and devices. completed cards to be included as part of the file should be submitted to the clerk. items acted upon today will appear on the october 16th board of supervisors agenda unless otherwise stated. >> thank you. could you please call our one item. >> a hearing regarding theft scams targeting older asian women. >> thank you. this is an item that has been sponsored by supervisor eric mar. supervisor mar, the floor is yours. >> thank you, chair avalos. thank you for coming, everyone, this morning. the past few months we have been hearing, especially in the chinese media of these types of theft scams targeting chinese elderly. they have made me very angry. not just because it is
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criminals praying on some of our most vulnerable but also it's been heavily impacting not only chinatown but richmond and sunset district. i really am appreciative of the law enforcement and community-based agencies that are here with us today. how they have really worked together to try to crack down to make sure people are aware of these scams and we can as a city kind of move forward to prevent them for the future. so this hearing is on a number of these types of scams that have happened over the past few months. they tend to target older chinese women in san francisco. since january of this year there have been a series reported. again, it is older asian or chinese women. it involves the theft of jewelry and money obtained under false pretense. nearly 50 of these cases have been reported in san francisco. it's totaled over $1.5 million of losses in cash
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and jewelry. many of these cases also again have taken place not only in chinatown but also sunset and richmond district. similar cases also have been reported in new york, chicago, boston and seattle. i wanted to invite up a number of the reps from our law enforcement and community agencies from the police department, san francisco district attorney's office rebecca prozan and david chan. first lieutenant art stelini. he's the chief investigator. thank you, lieutenant stelini. >> thank you, good morning, supervisors. as the lieutenant in the special victim's unit oversees the crimes district the responsibility of these crimes have fallen under our umbrella. as you can see in the handouts before you, to date of 2012 we have approximately 50 of these
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such cases reported to us. they are broken down into series. we have the first series, a major series at the beginning of the year, which totaled approximately 35 police reports. in that case we originally detained six people at san francisco inter national airport. from those six, three were charged criminally here in san francisco, are in custody, awaiting their court hearings. there is another court hearing set for tomorrow on arguments on that case. the second series was approximately another 12 police reports, 12 victims here in san francisco. we have no arrests in that series, though we do -- we have identified our suspects by photo but not by name. our third series are two victims. on that one we captured the crime actually of one of
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the victims on video. we have that video to show you, if you'd like to see it. it is approximately four minutes long. >> actually, yes. that would be good. we also have captain garrett tom of the central police station that is with us, besides the assistant district attorney rebecca prozen and david chen. *. i think it would be good to watch the video. >> i have it pre-loaded but i don't know how to get it on your big screens. >> deana, do you know how to get this going? >> i think you start the video, i will put the mic on. >> sorry, there was no audio. it was captured from a residence security camera turned over to the police. >> okay. we will view the video. you can talk over it too, if you can explain. >> while you are watching the video what you need to pay attention to is at some point the female hands over a bag to another female.
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then another suspect joins hands with our victim, almost like they are praying. at that point the bag switch is made, unknown to our victim. that is when the money switch is made. the bags, as you will see, will be identical. >> i think we need to hit play. >> that is your victim handing over the bag. the lady in the rear just made the bag switch with the main suspect. >> there's the praying. >> she had already touched her hands. two will leave. another one will leave with our victim. two of the suspects will stay and wait for a fourth
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suspect to arrive, who takes the money and walks away. a much younger asian lady. >> how was this caught on video? >> this is security camera from a residence. when security went out to scope the area, one of the things they looked for were the cameras. the lady off to the far right has the money. she's already made the switch. as usually in these type of cases the victim is told not to open the bag, not to touch it for several days. sometimes two weeks, three weeks, a month. for the most part, that is
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what they do. there are cases where they start having doubt and tell somebody what happened to them. then they realized they may have been duped. they look inside and discover they have been a victim of a crime. there have several different ruses they will use. these are strangers. these women are trained at what they do. they hone their skills. they are very good. in real life when they commit their crimes -- here is the hand-off right now of the fourth or fifth suspect who comes in, puts the bag in another bag and walks away. >> okay. >> they separate. they are not together. the one suspect who actually has the cash, our victim is never seen. she is walking down the
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street, our suspects get detained. the money is not there. when i worked narcotics. one would have the narcotics. another would hand off the money. if the person with the narcotics got arrested the person with the money ran free. again, they are trained at what they do, practice their skills. i strongly believe they target their victims. they watch their victims, watch to see if they are alone. if they have a purse or coming out of a store. real life they are not taking the money in the purse. they have the victims go to their homes and take the cash. they will tell them such stories as years ago your father stepped in blood, now he has evil spirits. if we don't pray together, if you don't bring your money or jewelry, something bad will happen to you or
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your children. this is one of the stories they spin. again, it sounds as far-fetched. again, san francisco, we have had over 50. these are the ones that are reported to us. >> lieutenant stelini, can i ask how do the scam artists advertise they will provide this service to people. how do they get their victims to know that they are going to -- >> it is is a series. all these women approach their victim as strangers. one does not know the other as they spin their story. they will approach the victim and say in one instance, i need to go to the doctor. do you know where there is a doctor's office. the victim will say, gee, i don't know. another will say, yes,
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there is a doctor's office down the block. they start with something that simple. before you know it you have four women, five women engaged in a conversation. they get her -- bring her down. get her to a comfort zone but emotionally overwhelming her. one is building on the other's statements. when they tell her the evil spirits are coming, something bad will happen to the family, the other two or three will reinforce that statement. again, they are working on our elderly community. that is who they are targeting. >> can i ask, of the 50 reported cases -- i'm sure it is embarrassing if you have been ripped off like this, but do we have a sense of how many have not reported this? >> no. i would venture for the 50 we have, there may be another 50 to 100 out there that are not reported. it is very tough for an
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elderly person to admit something is wrong. not only in these types of cases with the elderly but all sorts of different life consequences that our elderly face every day, that they do not want to report what's happened to them, to the police or family members, as it may alter their lifestyle. we covered how the crime is, who our suspects are, our victims are. to date, as i said earlier, we have three people in custody in san francisco. two of the three in san francisco are still awaiting charges in new york, based on their crimes there. of the six that we detain at sfo, one a warrant was issued for her out of new york. they came and picked her up about two months ago and extradited her back to new york. two, the other people we
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detain at the airport, boston, secured warrants for their arrest but decided not to extradite them to their county. >> are there any other questions for the lieutenant? >> just really briefly, thank you, lieutenant. when were these arrested? when was the period of time these arrests were made? >> about two months ago. two, three months ago. the arrest was gathered through working with the special victim's unit for two to three-day period we had every inspector in that unit working on this case. over 30 people working on it. that is what it took. we were in communications on two or three occasions simultaneously with new york, boston, chicago and u.s. immigration services.
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>> thank you, lieutenant. the next speaker is captain garrett tom of the central police station. thank you, captain. >> good afternoon, supervisors avalos, olague. i would like to talk about what we have done at central station. tremendous outreach. in addition we have started a mini task force to focus on this crime and a mini task force includes five officers, all bilingual, they speak chinese. they saturated the area when this was going on. they did a lot of investigation and retrieved video through the investigation and re-walked all the crimes. they re-interviewed victims and just did countless work. i would like to thank david chan from s.a.f.e. who helped us with translations. in our outreach we wrote
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three fliers to the community for them to post. also videos. the video you just saw, we showed them at the senior centers. chinese newcomer service center, town hall meetings with the district attorney's office, chinatown community development center. i have a senior lunch program i go with my foot beat once a month. we go to a senior's center. after we serve the seniors lunch, we also show them the video. we had a lot of positive feedback. some of the seniors told us they were approached by these people. in addition, david chan and i went to a radio show and did a call-in. we provided an anonymous tip line. we got a lot of clues from that opportunity there. chief sure and commander
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biel went on chinese television. we had a media blitz with the tao daily where they covered this almost every day during the height of this heinous crime. the people in my task force, they took it very personally, just like you supervisor mar, because most were from the community. it wasn't a ten-hour or eight-hour job. these officers were very dedicated. they worked without pay. i had inspectors from richmond come to my house at night when they were off-duty and we did make very, very -- we made lots of progress in this case at the time. we recovered both video and pictures of the suspects. some of our -- some of the
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videos we distributed were to banks in china town such as east west, bank f orient, wells fargo, bank of america, chase bank, citibank. in fact, the last victim knew about this scam already but she still fell for it because of i guess the pressure and superstition and beliefs. we haven't stopped. we will still have more outreach. i have another senior lunch coming up. i think the district attorney's office is also scheduling more outreach to the community. that is just a little overview of what we have been doing at central station. approximate >> captain tom, do you know when the six suspects were arrested? what time or date they were arrested? >> that was -- this was in the first series. >> yeah. >> this is before i got to
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central station. this was a while back. i think lieutenant stalini would have that information. >> the second and third series have decreased significantly. >> my officers said everyone in the community was talking about this. i think that scared them off. but we had to make a decision with economic crimes whether to broadcast this or try to catch the people. we felt it was much more important to not ruin anymore lives, so we broadcast it over the media. i think the media -- both american media and chinese media did an outstanding job. >> thank you, captain. >> thank you. >> i did want to say we have also inspector john loftis that is with us here
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today as well. >> supervisor avalos, question probably for the inspector as well. are we seeing continuation of reporting of people being scammed, members of the community scammed like this? >> supervisor, i think based on the tremendous outreach we have had, i think we are getting most of these reports. generally speaking, when an elderly person loses their life savings we will hear about it. i understand there is a bit of a disconnect with the elderly chinese community. especially if it is the immigrant population. based on the outreach we have done at central station, captain tom has done, a lot of work the special victim's unit has done with d.a. and s.a.f.e., i feel pretty confident. we have identified the vast majority of these victims, if not all of them. it what is interesting in this case, as captain tom
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said, the last victim -- the victim we watched the video on. the video is a little better than came across, so it was daytime. that victim was told about this scam a week prior at work, so our outreach is working. i fell that has a lot to do with the big reduction we are seing in these cases. what we are dealing with here were the six suspects arrested -- it was back in may. the six arrested were all chinese nationals, so they come in much like different theft groups we have, from like the central american theft groups that come up on occasion. there is a theft group now that targets hispanic -- elder hispanic people. a lot of times they travel throughout the under. they go from city to city, much like these are doing. when there's chinese nationals, they are difficult for us to identify and by the time we identify them they are off into another town. that is why like on the ones we were able to
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identify and arrest at airport, boston had a couple of warrants for them. they had been in new york, then they are gone. it is a very complicated investigation. it is an investigation we are working on. the f.b.i. has a parallel investigation. the special victim's unit meets frequently and they exchange information with the f.b.i. on this case so we have a little broader reach nationwide and we can be more successful in prosecution and identification of the suspects. that is kind of where we are at. the bigiest success has been the outreach, just getting the word out to the population that this is going on and to please be careful. not only to the potential victims but captain tom has gone to the banks. especially the chinese banks, those frequented by chinese people saying if you have an elderly person that comes in here and withdraws $40,000 in cash let us know immediately, detain them, find out what they are getting the cash for so they don't put it in a bag and walk down the
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street and give it to these other people. that is just building upon what you already heard. >> thank you. i did want to acknowledge what captain tom said about officers and inspectors really going above and beyond kind of the call of duty to really put your head together and come up with great community strategies based on your knowledge of chinatown but really making an effort to raise as strong awareness as possible through community education with s.a.f.e. and others. did you have questions, supervisor olague? >> no. i can imagine this is an issue that occurs in other areas, i know. i'm just wondering if you have received many complaints from other groups. you know, i know in chinatown they are obviously targeted but is it uncommon in other neighborhoods? >> absolutely. several of these cases have occurred in sunset, the richmond. >> i'm wondering if other
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ethnic groups are targeted for something similar. that is what i'm asking. i was actually approached about ten years ago in a similar manner, so i imagine it is something that occurs. of course that was one random incident. this particular scam tends to deal on an asian suspicion. there is a lotto scam prevalent now. it is whatever the flavor of the day. whatever they think they can get away with, they will do. >> and as supervisor mar mentioned, i think it is important to work with some of the senior groups right now to inform seniors of this. maybe they are the most vulnerable people that are targeted. i imagine it occurs in all age groups. >> absolutely the seniors are most vulnerable. that is where we concentrate our outreach efforts. >> can i ask this to either inspector loftis or lieutenant stalini or
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captain tom. who's orchestrating all these? if they are chinese nationals and it seems like it is orchestrated, who is at the top kind of coordinating this, do you know? >> i don't think we know yet. there's obviously some central command structure in their group, or there may be multiple command struck -- structures and multiple groups. it doesn't take too much of criminal moxie to put together a group of four, five people and target individuals on the street and say, you stepped in some blood. now you've got bad luck. you better bring down all your money and jewelry, we will bless it for you. >> thank you. next speaker is assistant district attorney rebecca prozen. thank you for the prosecutions on these cases too. >> thank you. good morning, supervisors. it is a pleasure to be here, thank you for the opportunity to talk about our outreach efforts on
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these horrible cases. it is important to attorney gascon to use the office as an educational tool so we use our resources to let seniors and the best way to prevent crime is by education. cases like these can grow exponentially, especially if thieves are successful, it spreads. and the only way to stop that is to let folks know individually and by a group. we have been doing a lot of elder abuse, financial abuse education starting in may for elder abuse awareness month. we were in the tenderloin and did a forum on elder abuse at the self help for the elderly's downtown senior center. we did a merchant walk and self-help in a subforum in chinatown. we have worked with groups like asian pacific islander, adult protective services, cameron house,
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adult protective services, sf safe and another group, asian-american community center and the police department to help seniors understand don't give over your jewelry or your money, it is not a good idea. we have had four forums, the first in may in chinatown; we had a second in chinatown; a third in the outer sunset and yesterday visitation vaolly. -- valley. every one have been jammed packed. we estimate we have educated over 500. we have bilingual fliers, also in spanish and russian. i have brought copies to have in your offices. at the forums we show the video that's been discussed. it is a ten-minute video that goes through a scam so people see how you are
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approached, what happens, why you shouldn't do it. it is a very moving video. i brought extra copies of that as well. all of the meetings have obviously been translated so we can make sure they are accessible to anyone and everyone who wants to come. we have met with all the victims of the cases. not just one in the charged case, so that everyone knows what is happening. we have had significant media coverage on the forums. the d.a.'s been on chinese radio, ktsf radio 26, main stream chinese press at every one of these educational forums. we hold a monthly ethnic briefing, where we have highlighted as much as we can. we obviously want to do that. we have victim service hours in the neighborhood. we are there at cameron house in chinatown every wednesday from 9:30 to noon. when one of the d.a.s and i were there one of the
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victims showed up. dee was able to talk to her about what happened. we have been talking to that victim as well as other cases. >> so cameron is on sacramento and stockton street. when are those? >> every wednesday, from 9:30 to noon. then on october 27th we are actually having a chinatown resource fair to bring the community based organizations and city departments to portsmouth square so we will highlight this issue again so as much as we can get the word out to people, we will. i would be happy to answer any questions. >> thank you. are there questions? let me just ask about victim services for the district attorney's office. if somebody's lost a bunch of cash and some jewelry, how soon might they recover their stolen property if you have apprehended six people. you know how quickly somebody could recover
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their losses. >> that is difficult because it is hard to identify money. even just forsake of example someone loses 10,000 they can't necessarily identify those as theirs or the $50s as theirs if they are mixed together. one of the things we have stressed is for people to take a log or inventory of their property at home. even jewelry has been difficult. i think that is one of the problems with the cases as they are. >> thank you. supervisor avalos. >> thank you. thank you for your presentation. just thinking about outreach that might happen in my district where there have been in some incidents, not as many, but the mission y is a good place. there is a senior lunch that happens there about every day on mission street by 280. there's also the excelsior community center on the corner of mission and excelsior. a